Yejadai Dunn ’16 to compete among national rugby talent

by Jehanna Axelrod | 8/13/15 6:25pm

Though Dartmouth women’s rugby co-captain Yejadai Dunn ’16 is spending the summer working in Boston, she has not taken a break from playing the sport she loves. In addition to being a member of the Boston’s women’s club rugby team, Beantown, Dunn was selected to the ATAVUS All-Stars Women’s Collegiate 15s team to play against Ontario in late July and is now at USA Rugby’s National All-Star Competition camp in Denver.

“For [Dunn], personally, it’s a very exciting opportunity because all of these tours and camps are selection venues for the USA national team,” head coach Katie Dowty said.

Dowty also noted that Dunn was one of only about 150 rugby players at both the collegiate and senior levels to be invited to the NASC camp, an impressive feat.

“It was definitely a surprise,” Dunn said. “I’m actually not that familiar with higher-level rugby, like the U.S. Rugby structure, since I’ve always just played at the Ivy League level with Dartmouth.”

The camp is designed to give USA Rugby coaches an up-close look at some of the top women’s rugby players in the country.

“They’ll scrimmage each other so that the coaches can actually see them play as opposed to looking at numbers or just drills,” Dowty said. “They can actually see people’s game sense.”

Not only is Dunn being watched and evaluated by coaches, but she is also using the opportunity to watch and evaluate other players.

“I’ve learned a lot about different styles, new strategies on attack and on defense,” Dunn said.

As a co-captain for the Big Green, Dunn hopes to teach the skills she’s picked up to her teammates.

“I just want to take back things that I’ve learned on the tour,” she said, “like different attacks and also some leadership skills I’ve learned from other players and take them back as we go through transition.”

This “transition” refers to Dowty’s hiring and the team’s jump from a club to a varsity sport, both of which occurred this summer. According to her teammates, Dunn will be more than capable of helping her team through this period of change.

“She dedicates herself to everything she does,” Aiko Laski ’17 said. “This sounds like I’m over-praising her but this is totally who she is.”

Leadership is nothing knew to Dunn. Two years ago. during Laski’s first season, Dunn acted as the team’s rookie coordinator, which required her to help new players become comfortable in their environment.

“She’s very patient,” Laski said. “It takes a lot of patience to develop that talent and integrate it into the team.”

Opponents, however, may not witness this kind and soft side of the Dartmouth captain.

“Every team has one or two players who will run straight through people and who will have people hanging off of them while they run, and she’s one of those people,” Laski said.

Even though she has yet to see Dunn play in person, Dowty is well aware of what Dunn brings to the game.

“I know she’s a big hitter and loves the physicality,” Dowty said.

In addition to developing her athletic ability, Dunn also developed a new support system on campus when she joined the team her freshman fall.

“I’ve had an amazing team the last three years,” Dunn said. “They’re my friends, they’re my family, there’s no one in my life I would do more for.”

The tight-knit rugby community has helped Dunn in more ways that she can count.

“My freshman fall I really struggled in a lot of ways, and the team, everyone on the team, was there to pick me up and give me a lot of strength,” Dunn said. “I can never repay them for what they did so I give it my all on the field.”

Her teammates also recognize the effort that Dunn puts into her game.

“She is an unstoppable force,” Laski said.

The intensity with which Dunn approaches rugby has already brought her to the selection camp, and it may take her even further — rugby sevens is set to make its Olympic debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Even if Dunn is not there to represent her country, she is proud of her sport’s newfound prominence.

“Women’s rugby is a sport that values so many different body types, skills and athleticism, especially because it’s so physical,” Dunn said.

Unlike lacrosse and hockey, which have different rules for the men’s and women’s versions of the sport, rugby is played with the same physicality no matter who is on the field.

“I want to develop awareness for the fact that this is important, and that more people should appreciate it and more girls should have the opportunity to try it,” Dunn said.

As for now, Dunn more invested in her sport’s message than she is in playing for the U.S.

“Some people have goals to be [US Rugby] Eagles, and that’d be great, but right now I really love playing for the team,” Dunn said. “I’m kind of going to go with the flow and see where that takes me but I think I’ll always be playing even after college.”

Dunn will be playing in Denver at the NASC camp for the next few days, before returning to Boston and then making her way to Hanover on Sept. 1 for preseason training.